Commons' Health Committee cannot agree unanimous report on key aspects of the NHS National Programme for IT

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The Health Committee of the House of Commons is to publish a report on aspects of the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] without the contents of the document being agreed by all of the MPs on the committee.

The contents of the report "Electronic Patient Record" will not be known publicly until it is published on Thursday 13 September 2007 but I understand that MPs on the committee were unable to agree parts of it without specific sections being put to a vote. And when voting over the contents was completed, the final report was not signed by all members.

It is rare for the Labour-dominated Health Committee to publish a report without the unanimous support of its MPs. It may show the extent to which the NPfIT has become politcised. This sensitivity is due in part to the scale of the financial commitment to the programme: it is the government's biggest investment in IT.

Labour politicians are anxious to show that the NPfIT - on which about £2.5bn has been spent so far - is not failing. But five years since the scheme was announced the British Computer Society, 23 leading academics, MPs and others have questioned how well the programme is progressing, although they support its object of improving the care and treatment of patients

The House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee, which comprises mostly Labour MPs under a Tory chairman Edward Leigh, had published a report that was highly critical of progress on the NPfIT. The Committee called for an independent review of the business case for the NPfIT in the light of experience and progress so far - a recommendation that was rejected by the government.

Now the Health Committee, which comprises mainly Labour MPs under a Labour loyalist chairman Kevin Barron, is expected to follow the government's line in rejecting calls for any published independent review of the NPfIT.

Twenty-three academics had written an open letter to the committee to ask that it call on the government to commission an independent review.

But during hearings of the committee earlier this year Barron had expressed little enthusiasm for too much questioning of the NPfIT. He said:

"If you go back in years in medical history, into some of the things that doctors were doing at the time, which made major breakthroughs, people were sceptical about [these]. People were questioning even what their peer groups were doing in terms of whether it was the right thing to do."

He said that life expectancy has been extended to an "incredible" extent largely because of the "people doing things for the first time." In what seemed to be a criticism of the 23 academics who had called for an independent review of the NPfIT Barron added:

"Quite frankly if people were questioning [medical breakthroughs in history] on the basis of 'we don't think it will work' or 'it might not be manageable' and everything else, we may not have made the progress through the centuries that we have done, in society in general and throughout the world. This sort of questioning every little minutiae, or potential every little minutiae, is something that is non-progressive, for want of a better expression."

The Health Committee had launched an inquiry into NHS IT with an initial reluctance. When some MPs on the committee sought to have an inquiry, Barron was reluctant to do so, in part because of the complexity of the subject. When the committee subsequently agreed to an inquiry it was held with narrow terms of reference which did not include scrutiny of the whole programme.

Thursday's report is expected to include some criticisms, particularly over the lack of consultation of medical professions.

Links:

How the Health Committee took decision to hold NHS NPfIT inquiry

Evidence submitted by Computer Weekly to the Health Committee

Open letter to the Health Committee

Government snubs key recommendations of Public Accounts Committee on NHS National Programme for IT

NHS report hails NPfIT milestones

British Computer Society sticks to its guns over report on the National Programme for IT

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